American veteran faces forced return to dangerous homeland that two-thirds of his fellow believers have fled.
Nahidh Shaou could be deported any day now.
As a Christian and a veteran of the US military, being forcibly returned to Iraq—a homeland he hasn’t seen since he was five years old—could prove to be a death sentence.
Until April of this year, Iraq had not accepted deportees from the United States since 2010. That policy changed when one of President Donald Trump’s early executive orders included Iraq on a list of seven countries targeted with a temporary travel ban. As part of the deal to be removed from the list, Iraq agreed to begin taking deportees again.
More than 1,400 Iraqis in America are on the docket to be returned to their country of origin.
Escorted by law enforcement officers, the first of those Iraqis boarded a small plane in Louisiana in April, bound for Baghdad.
Shaou was supposed to be on that plane. But at the 11th hour, he was granted an emergency stay after his lawyer, Richard Kent, filed an appeal to defer Shaou’s removal.
With dozens of Iraqi Christians rounded up in Michigan just this past weekend, the situation remains dire.
“Without a final decision on his status, he can be deported at any time,” says Tina Ramirez, president of Hardwired Inc., which provides training and education programs to foster religious freedom in countries in conflict.
Shaou’s case is divisive for a number of reasons. For one thing, he’s a convicted criminal.
After serving in Korea’s demilitarized zone in the early 1980s, during which time his father died, Shaou returned to the US and, suffering from PTSD, was honorably discharged. Soon after, at the age of 20, he shot and wounded a police officer during a robbery near Detroit and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
He finished his sentence last fall. But instead of being released, Shaou was immediately detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and scheduled to be deported on the April flight.
The case is also contentious because of the fate awaiting Shaou if he is returned to Iraq, a country in turmoil and rife with religious persecution. Iraq ranks No. 7 on Open Doors’s World Watch List, which calculates the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.
“He’ll be targeted for his Christian faith, his Chaldean ethnicity, his veteran status—that will be seen as traitorous,” said Tiara Shaya, Shaou’s niece and one of his primary advocates. “The big giveaways will be not being able to speak Arabic and not having an ID.”
ISIS’s reign of terror aimed at Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria—a phenomenon that President Trump, the Obama administration, and Congress have referred to as genocide—is perilous for anyone in its path. With no Iraqi papers, no connections, and an American accent, Shaou’s future would be doubly dangerous.
“I see it as a death sentence,” said Shaya. “I really don’t know how he could survive with the combination of targets on his back.”
SOURCE: GRIFFIN JACKSON